Fear of Life Extention?

The (Irrational) Fear of Radical Life Extension


Shawn Gilbert

There has never been a time in human history that “controversial” theories have not existed. Certain examples would include believing that the Earth was flat back in the time of Columbus; or the Earth revolving around the Sun; or even the ability for man to fly. These are just a few ideas I can think of off the top of my head. One of the latest ideas, and I believe the most important idea of all time, is Radical Life Extension. And, like most controversial theories before it, there are groups of adamant nay-sayers who rise up and scream “This is not right” or “that’s not natural”. The psychological influences behind such fears come in many forms and are propagated by certain groups within society. Agendas of these groups vary from questionable business pursuits to simply wishing to maintain the status quo (Nick Arrizza, M.D. No More Fear Of Change). Two such groups are Organized Religion and Government, along with a third general body being just plain human defeatists.

Since the majority of people claim to believe in a creator and have such a passion for defending said belief, I feel compelled to tackle the fear of Radical Life Extension in this area first, and attempt to alleviate the fears of the “moral” majority. The argument I hear most often from the religious sector is “That we should not play God”. This is routinely touted by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart (as well as George W. Bush). This argument suggests that attempting to alter the natural course of life as dictated by a deity or religious doctrine is evil, goes against the will of God, and will generally cause you to burn in hell for all eternity. I’d say that that could be a bit fear inducing to the faithful. But, if Falwell, Swaggart, Bush, and their ilk truly believed what they were preaching on this subject, they would not seek out medical help to cure an illness, or have surgery to repair a faulty organ, both of which radically extend the life span of the individual getting such treatments. When medical doctors discover the cures for things like cancer and AIDS, for instance, this alone could more than double the average life span. Helping people to live a healthy disease free life should never be viewed as an affront to God. In my massage practice I’ve had the opportunity to ask many of my clients what they thought of Radical Life Extension. Sadly, many of them needed the very concept explained. The most stated concern by individual people was, surprisingly, not that we shouldn’t play god, but rather, they expressed the desire to want to “be with God”, thinking that if they extended their life spans they somehow would be unable to go to heaven. They think that to delay death would somehow shortchange their experience of paradise. If you truly believe in heaven, and life here on Earth is such an unpleasant existence for you that your most desired outcome for yourself is to die and go to heaven for all eternity, I’m not sure any of my arguments could alter your decision, except for maybe this: If there is a heaven, how long will it be there? Forever? So, even if you live for 100,000 years, heaven will still be there waiting for you. Plus, the very fact that you believe you will bask in the glory of God for all eternity means you already plan on living forever, it’s just that you would need to die first to get there.

So living forever isn’t the issue, just the order in which it happens. The idea of living for many hundreds of years is not really even that groundbreaking. It has even been documented (The Bible, Genesis 5:5) that there have been people that have lived up to 969 years! According to religious doctrine, it is not unnatural for man to have a veryextended lifespan compared to today’s average life spans.

Throughout history, Government and Religion have been so intertwined that it is fairly difficult to separate the two. If a politician wanted to attract the vote of the majority, they would have had to, above all else, state their “moral upbringing” and their faith in God. The direct connection not withstanding, I will try to separate purely governmental motivations for my next three examples. Overpopulation has been the great burden held over our heads by government sponsored statistics for as long as I can remember. And, for many years I even believed the statistics that were shoved down my throat. Recently though, new studies and statistics have come to my attention that suggest that as we progress and develop new medical technologies and become healthier and wealthier, population actually decreases! (Hans Rosling,www.gapminder.org). As quality of life increases, individuals tend to opt for enjoyment of life rather than procreation and progeneration. Even with the overpopulation issue completely disproved, many politicians still use that argument and suggest that the natural resources would be overly strained by longer life spans. This seems to me to be a convenient method for over-regulation and control of resources. Imagine, politicians actually concerned about the strain on natural resources. Think about that. Another issue the government seems to have with extending life spans is Social Security. They try to scare us by pointing out how fragile Social Security is, and that if people lived longer the government would no longer be able to support our expanding senior community, and our elderly would be forced out of their homes and into the streets. Umm…wow! They would have you believe that by helping people live longer, healthier, more productive lives that they would become more of a detriment to society? The idea behind life extension is to live a longer more robust life, putting off for many years the ill effects of aging. This will allow people to lead longer and more productive lives and not be dependent on programs such as Social Security. Probably the most telling, as well as the most insidious, groups trying to install fear of life extension technologies are the pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists. The sector that spends the most money on lobbyist by far is the pharmaceutical sector. The spend more than $800 million (that’s $800,000,000.00 just in case you needed to see the zeros) in order to get laws passed that these private companies want passed (Center for Public Integrity's lobbying database), in effect buying the votes to prevent laws being passed that could threaten their profit margins as well as preventing technologies that could threaten their future business. I ask you, how much would Advil make in profits if no one developed arthritis? Pain and suffering have always been profitable to the drug companies. In my ignorance I had always assumed that buying off a public official was illegal, but I have since come to realize that bribery and payoffs are just business as usual to the large pharmaceutical conglomerates.

Last but not least I cite our very own psychological defense mechanisms to avoid pain and disappointment. I would have to say most people have learned through various institutions (such as church and school) that making a mistake or being wrong is an unforgivable act. Although it is a natural response built into our learning system, over emphasizing and exaggerating the importance of “getting the answer right” has allowed that response to exert more control over our actions and thoughts than it normally would, causing anxiety, fear, and an inability to act on any new ideas; frozen with fear or indecision. In response to that fear we create reasons or defenses for our inability to try new things (Bent Flyvbjerg, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again, 2001). “It’s impossible, so why even try?” I know of and have read about many people that have expressed this attitude at one time or another. This is usually regarding subjects that are thought of to be vastly complicated or not “humanly” possible. This postmodern defeatist view is repeatedly disproved of by scientific progress, but our current psychology and systems of pier groups serves to continuously enforce and support our fears and uncertainties(Michael Tissaw, Values and Foundations Emancipative Social Science).Another frustrating misconception most people have regarding life extension is that the older you get the more decrepit and feeble you become. The whole purpose of life extension is to prevent physical age and decrepitude from occurring in the first place. So a concern like not being able to afford retirement would never become an issue. Not only would you be able to work longer to save up more money, but you probably wouldn’t even want to retire. Just take extended vacations from time to time. And for me, the most infuriating and confusing reason I hear given for not wishing to live an extended life span is that they would get board. When I hear this I can’t even believe my ears. That’s the same as saying “I would rather die than be bored”. What? Really? I suppose if I imagined myself sitting in a rocking chair drinking beer and watching NASCAR for a hundred years I too would rather die! But Radical Life Extension will give us the potential to be physically young and vital for and extended period of time. If you would rather die, then who am I to stop you? Personally, I would take full advantage of all my years of wisdom coupled with a strong and youthful body to continue living life to the fullest.

Fear of new ideas, new technology, and the controversies that follow them should never be allowed to sway us from rational debate and exploration (Andrew Sayer, Realism and Social Science. London: Sage, 2000). The fear of such things in the past have led to many tragic and regretted actions. The beheading of philosophers and scientists alike are just two examples of forward thinkers who have suffered greatly at the hands of authorities trying to maintain the status quo and alleviate their own fears. Learn to recognize your fears and keep them in proper perspective. Don’t let fear rule your thinking and limit the fullness of life.

Shawn Gilbert (10-21-2007)